Do you believe U.S. intervention follows humanitarian values? Do you believe governmental institutions hold war criminals to account? Without any flaw in sight, do the powers that be seem especially utopian in their execution of war? If these questions ring true, you most likely subscribe to the narrative of infallibility being pushed by both The Trump Administration and the Pentagon who claim no civilians have died in airstrikes across Somalia.
This simply isn’t true, of course.
Thanks to an investigative report from Amnesty International, however, there’s actual blood beneath this surface of political theatre. Amnesty’s report, which was published earlier this week, details how five targetted airstrikes from the allied forces have resulted in the deaths of over 14 innocent civilians and 8 injuries. While the American attacks on Somalia have tripled under President Donald Trump, substantial forensic evidence proves his military is responsible for deaths in four of the strikes, at least until the investigation into the fifth concludes.
“This is a detailed, credible, and deeply disturbing report,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who emailed The Intercept for comment. “Despite very challenging investigative conditions, Amnesty provides strong evidence that the Trump administration’s claim of zero civilian casualties simply cannot be believed.” This “credible evidence” includes Amnesty’s analysing of satellite imagery, military data, medical data and the testimony of over 65 witnesses and survivors of the five specific airstrikes detailed in the report.
When questioned, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) officials immediately disputed the report as mere “allegations” which neglect the military’s own findings. Since 2017, there have been 18 cases of possible civilian casualties attributed to the military which were internally investigated by the accused — despite their clear conflicts of interest at play. As to be expected, the military officials claimed that “none were credible” so as to continue business as usual as we take their word at face value. And what is that business exactly? If you asked Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the commander of AFRICOM, he would say it’s not war.
During his March congressional hearing, Waldhauser explained that he “wouldn’t characterize that we’re at war [with Somalia]. It’s specifically designed for us not to own that.” The Amnesty report, however, explains that U.S. intervention, through their use of offensive airstrikes on enemy combatants such as the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab, is “a clear party to the non-international armed conflict and as such, the laws of war would apply.”
According to The Guardian, the report was released the same day Somali intelligence officials and two local residents revealed a U.S. drone strike killed civilians within the region. The Somali official, speaking under the condition of anonymity to protect his informant status, detailed how a drone targeted a vehicle that was carrying “suspected militants” and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians.
This assessment was detailed by separate residential sources. Mohamed Siyad, an elder in the village of Lanta Buro, said the car carried four civilians, one being an employee of a local telecom company and another two being well-diggers. Only one was a considered suspect, though this wasn’t entirely verified by the military. “They were known to us,” he explained. “They had nothing to do with al-Shabaab.” The other local resident, Abdiaziz Haji, saw the drone destroy the vehicle. “The bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
Once the media caught the military red-handed, AFRICOM released a statement on Tuesday hinting of the casualties being “possible” and assured the DOD would “look into the incident”. For the military disavow all of Amnesty’s findings — which was the norm on Monday — would be to refute this story from the report as well. The original response to Amnesty was all the men were combatants based on some prior assessment, which seems to be the generic response to justify any warfare by the military. It’s all just believe the contradictions, shut up and let us bomb away without consequence.
Thanks to a statement from Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser on arms and military operations, it’s been revealed to The Intercept that “as far as we can tell, AFRICOM doesn’t do any on the ground investigations, and none of the 150 people we interviewed had ever spoken to a government official, Somali or American, about these attacks.” If true, how is AFRICOM qualified to explain their own airstrikes when they’re unable to investigate their own warfare? What assessment would they be referring to if this was the case? Or is the military once again just trying to save face when facing potential charges?
Foreign policy experts credit this reckless behaviour to the “loosened rules of engagement” which were approved by Trump in April of 2017, back when certain sections of Somalia were declared as “areas of active hostilities” where offensive strikes were approved. Amnesty explains that since the U.S. has technically not declared war on Somalia, which must be approved by Congress, the military’s current tactics constitute both as war crimes and constitutional violations.
The reason for these loosen rules is to allow arcane his ease of use for the military. When Amnesty spoke to former Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Africa from 2015 to 2017, he explained that targets are determined based on four criteria: age, gender, locations deemed supportive to terrorists and an individual’s proximity to the al-Shabab members. “The reason President Trump changed the rules is that now these guys can be hit,” Bolduc told Amnesty. “[If] they are in close proximity, they are [now] part of the al Shabaab network.”
To put it simply, the military is conducting moment-by-moment profiles of assumption, without prior intelligence references, where the misfortune of being near a terrorist and sharing the same immutable charismatics now deems one a terrorist in the eyes of the Unaccountable State of America. “If General Bolduc’s description of the targeting standards is correct,” Shamsi continues, “then the U.S. is intentionally killing men solely because they are of military age and might know al Shabaab members, or are in areas where the population is deemed sympathetic to the group.”
AFRICOM emailed The Intercept to say Bolduc “did not accurately summarize the targeting standards”, though failed to provide additional information for “operational security reasons.” In their statement to journalist Amanda Sperber: “AFRICOM remains dedicated to providing assistance to the Federal Government of Somalia and is encouraged by the incremental progress that has been achieved thus far, especially in applying pressure to the al Shabaab network.” Once again, just another PR statement designed to maintain business as usual.
This business, however, is seemingly rotten to the core. A spokesperson for AFRICOM told The Intercept that 27 strikes have been conducted so far this year, which contradicts the 76 other strikes discovered by Amnesty, suggesting the death toll could be much higher than is currently on the books. “Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” Castner concludes. “The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually just a smokescreen for impunity.”
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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